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Fulfilling Broadband Goal Close, But Difficult

“We have promised to have high speed internet access to every last mile by the end of 2013,”  declared Governor Peter Shumlin at a December, 2012 news conference.  It's a statement he's made numerous times.

Today, state officials are still promising that by the end of the year all Vermonters will have access to broadband internet.

As broadband has become more widely available, the state has continued to focus on those places with no high speed Internet in order to reach its goal.

The most isolated customers are the biggest challenge – and not everyone is on the same deadline as the state.

Achieving the end-of-the-year target depends on building the network that will carry the broadband signal.

The state has relied on its own grants, federal grants and loans, and private capital from phone and cable companies to build out the network.

In many cases, the state targets its money to companies that will extend broadband to those isolated addresses that have no high speed Internet now and might never have it without  grant money.   

The grants are aimed at getting the job done by the end of this year.  That’s the state’s timeline.  But it’s not everyone's timeline.

Last March, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority terminated two broadband grants awarded to Springfield based VTel when the parties couldn’t agree on terms of a contract, including a completion date.

Some of the grant money was intended to provide broadband by year’s end to 365 unserved addresses. 

When the grant was terminated, VTel officials announced they would serve those locations anyway, even without state money. 

But in a conference call with the VTA board on Friday, the company made it clear it won’t do so before the end of the year. 

When pressed by the telecommunications authority board to agree to a completion date, VTel’s Diane Guite explained that the company was not going to make any commitment without the grant money.

“We have no reason to contractually commit to do anything unless there’s funding attached.  Doing a written commitment where it’s just us promising you something isn’t something that a business would agree to,” Guite told board members.

Guite said service would likely not be provided to all of the 365 addresses until sometime next year.

This leaves the state in the position of missing its deadline, or finding another way to reach those unserved customers.

The state hasn’t yet decided what to do. 

All along, officials have said that there might be a handful of people without broadband by the end of the year, but a higher number would represent a failure to meet the goal.

With less than eight months left Kiersten Bourgeois who heads the state’s broadband effort says she’s still confident the target will be met.  The state says the list of 911 addresses for which it has yet to devise a plan for broadband coverage has been whittled to just 38.  

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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